BOSTON Kendrick Perkins has been in his share of tough games, but none of those experiences could have prepared him for what he's about to face tonight as the former Celtic returns to Boston for the first time with his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
On the plane ride in, Perkins acknowledged he had chills before it hit the Tarmac.
"Just being back in the city where you grew up from being an 18-year-old boy, to a 26-year-old man," said Perkins, who was drafted by the Celtics in 2003 and was traded to the Thunder last February. "I hope I don't get too emotional. I gotta try and keep at least a little bit of a scowl on my face."
After going out for dinner with former teammate and best friend Rajon Rondo, Perkins saw a series of interviews with Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce, Rondo and Kevin Garnett discussing their relationship with Perkins and how he will always be family to them.
"I was hearing them say it about me. I had to catch myself," Perkins said. "It's kind of hard. You get emotional at times. At the same time, you have to come in and focus on playing basketball. So you have to balance out the two, which makes it really hard. You miss everybody around, you grew around and a relationship with . . . it's hard."
Although he's no longer a member of the Celtics, Perkins said it hasn't been easy seeing his old team struggle so mightily this season.
While it's highly unlikely the C's (4-7) will finish with one of the top records in the East, Perkins is convinced they'll be a force come playoff time.
"They're gonna be good. They're gonna make the playoffs. Whatever team they gotta face, I feel sorry for that team. I say they'll hit their stride by late February. Going into April, I see them run off about 10, 11 games in a row and sneak into the 7, 6-spot and make some noise in the playoffs. That's what I believe."
Perkins and his new team shouldn't have any worries about sneaking into the playoffs.
The Thunder (11-2) have one of the most talented and deepest teams in the NBA, and are one of the early favorites to win it all this season.
You don't have to remind Perkins how fortunate he is to leave a franchise that was a title contender, for another one that is also in the championship chase.
"I got a great bond with the guys here (in Oklahoma City) also," Perkins said. "So you leave one great situation and go to another great situation. I'm like, not too many guys in the league get that opportunity. I didn't take it for granted when I was here. I don't take it for granted where I'm at now, either."